Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yom Kippur: WWJD?

What would Jesus have done on Yom Kippur?  Jesus, or Jeshua ben Miriam, as he would have been called, lived and died a Jew, and so observance of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, would have been as natural to him as breathing

Not so to me.  Born and raised not only Christian but intensely Catholic, I had no reason to observe Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur until my daughter decided she wanted to be a cantor, took it upon herself to learn Hebrew, converted to Judaism, got herself admitted to cantorial school, and began to work as a student cantor while carrying a full student load at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan.

In support of our daughter, I began to attend Jewish worship with my husband, who was raised as a Jew but long since had ceased practicing, and our two younger daughters, both, like Julia, raised Unitarian Universalist.  At Jewish worship services, I listened to spoken Hebrew recited by those who had been doing it all their lives, bowing and bending their knees on cues known to them but not to me.  I felt like an outsider in a group where everyone else knew the password.  My discomfort ranged from mild to intense.

This year, my husband and I attended Yom Kippur services at Congregation Adas Israel of Sag Harbor, Long Island, where Julia is serving as a student cantor on a regular basis.  

Temple Adas Israel, Sag Harbor, Long Island
Our neighbors, Margie Fine and Rae Tattenbaum, both raised Jewish, came with us.  That's Rae in the photo above.  It took three ferries to get to Sag Harbor from Connecticut.  

The Susan Anne, out of New London, CT

Mashomack, the North Ferry, out of Shelter Island Heights, L.I.

Sunrise, the South Ferry, out of Shelter Island, L.I.

On the way to Sag Harbor, Rae suggested that I look at Yom Kippur as a day of reflection.

Could I do that? 

Throughout Catholic high school, Catholic college, and beyond, I've taken part in formal retreats and days of reflection.

Framed that way, Yom Kippur became understandable.  Too bad I don't know the Hebrew, but I do know a feeling of transcendence, and I got one at that service, watching my daughter pull her tallis, or prayer shawl, over her head, cover her eyes, and reflectively prepare herself for singing the Kol Nidre, the chanted prayer that opens Yom Kippur. 

I decided to take from the holiday what I could as a Christian.

I decided to think about it as Jesus would have celebrated it.

Then as now, Yom Kippur was the most holy and solemn day of the year.  Jesus would have been present as the high priest offered atonement for the sins of the people of Israel, and he would have reflected himself, opening and deepening his relationship with God.

Maybe his meditation would have been something like this one, which I copied, during the Yom Kippur service, from the Gates of Repentance, the High Holy Day prayer book at Temple Adas Israel.  (After I finished copying it, my friends Margie and Rae, sitting in the next seats, suggested that I not write any more, because one does not do any writing on Yom Kippur.  Who knew?  See what I mean about feeling like an outsider?)

But I digress.  Maybe Jesus' meditation would have been like this one I copied:

For what are we?  What is our life, and what our faithfulness?  What is our goodness, and what our vaunted strength?  What can we say in Your presence, our God and God of all ages? To you we pray for the knowledge and strength to live responsibly.

As I'm reframing Yom Kippur, I've reframed Jesus.  He'd become a shadowy figure to me in my adult life, the waspy guy with the flowing golden locks long since a thing of the past.  I married a Jew, we raised our children Unitarian Universalist, and with the richness of those experiences, I've come to view the Christ, the Annointed One, from a different perspective.

He was a human being like everyone else--I'm paraphrasing Teacher, Companion, Guide:  Rediscovering Jesus in a Secular World by Erik Walker Wikstrom--but also not like everyone else in this way: his faith, belief, and trust in God were deeper, his relationship with the divine more intimate, his awareness clearer.  He was so in touch with the sacred as to be one with it.

In that spirit, I've been able to put my arms around Jesus and Yom Kippur, both, this year.  Not only that, but I didn't fast (unlike poor Julia, who couldn't even drink water).  And after a marathon of two hours of Kol Nidre service on Friday night, and three-plus hours of morning services on Saturday, we went to the beach.

Rae and Margie, Sag Main Beach

Joe and Diane, Sag Main Beach, Sag Harbor, Long Island

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